Liverpool Historic Geography (GIS)

This fully interactive map helps you explore hundreds of interesting features in Liverpool’s historic landscape. You can switch layers on and off using the list on the right. Some layers will cluster at certain zoom levels, and you’ll see numbers in circles instead of icons. Zoom in to see the individual sites.

Layer summary

Some of these layers originate as data collections from other people, that in some cases I’ve added to or edited. Other layers are simply ones I’ve drawn myself.

You can choose from two base maps: the old maps (‘1919 – 1947’) change depending on how zoomed in you are, and are a collection from the National Library of Scotland. The ‘Current’ base map is up to date, and based on OpenStreetMap.

Source: National Library of Scotland; OpenStreetMap contributors, both via MapTiler.

Liverpool’s historic landscape has been influened by the natural landscape that was forming way before humans ever set foot on these islands. This layer introduces the main natural features which have had an effect on the topography of the landscape, as well as the human activity that eventually took place on it.

Every aspect of the landscape – every building, road, lake, stream and path – has been affected by what came before it. Roads avoid steep slopes and buildings prefer well-drained ground. Ancient field boundaries become fossilised into the pattern of streets. In turn the field boundaries would have been influenced by water courses, contours and vegetation. This process can be further traced back to the bedrock upon which everything has its foundations.

For this reason it’s important to study the anciently prehistoric landscape. How was it formed? What shape did it take? How have humans changed it to suit their needs, and what limitations did they bump up against? More importantly, which natural landscape features did they take advantage of? How is our historic landscape formed from the natural one?

The most obvious and important natural features in Liverpool’s history are of course the River Mersey and the Pool. And even though the Pool no longer exists, the street pattern today – Paradise Street and Whitechapel, and the streets leading up to them – remember the Pool and form a ghost outline of the channel which gave Liverpool its power.

As well as the water courses, hills also played a part in the city’s growth. The high ground on which the Victoria Monument now stands was the perfect spot on which to build Liverpool Castle. It provided firm foundations for the fortified building, and gave panoramic views of the town, the Mersey and across the Wirral and south Lancashire – a perfect lookout for the defence of the town. In addition, sandstone ridges run northwest-southeast across the county, and it was these drier areas (bogs and marshes were otherwise widespread) that attracted the earliest settlement, for example in West Derby, Everton and Childwall. How the landscape was formed

The River Mersey, the sandstone ridges, and the Rivers Weaver, Alt and Dee and Fender, were all formed by glaciers marching their slow and painstaking way south from the mountainous regions of Scotland and the Lake District, and from the basin of the Irish Sea. This scouring of the landscape laid down the first formations which were to have so much effect on the history of Liverpool.

As the ice retreated and sea levels rose, the Mersey valley and those of the other rivers filled with water, eventually forming the landscape features we are familiar with today. At the same time, water flowed off the ridges and into the rivers, forming the Pool, the Osklesbrook (from where the name Otterspool originates) and myriad other streams used later to power mills on the river front.

From these subtle beginnings, the natural landscape set the scene for the first human settlements, which took advantage of freshwater fish and the game opportunities provided by the forests which grew in place of the glaciers. From there, Liverpool and the surrounding towns developed in tune with the lie of the land, and even today we can see the evidence of this strong influence.

Source: personal research.

There are two combined sets of date here. The first is a collection from The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire by Henry Taylor. I’ve written about the ancient crosses on a dedicated page. The second group is actually part of the Milestones Society’s dataset (see below). That society groups the monuments it looks after into several groups, and their dataset is available on their website.

Source: The Milestone Society makes its data downloadable from their Repository website as Excel spreadsheets. I have converted these into geographical information. Taylor, H., 1902, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes, Manchester

The Mersey has long been an attractive beach-head for would-be invaders, from the Vikings to the Second World War. An article in the Journal of the Liverpool Historic Society detailed some of the river defences from the 18th century, mostly concerned with defence against the French during the Napoleonic period.

Most of the defences are gun batteries which trained their sights on the entrance to the River Mersey, where French ships were deemed a potential threat. I’ll leave it to David to explain the details of this defensive landscape, but suffice to say I thought it would be interesting to see on a map. Some of the information for the gun emplacements is from the article, backed up with further notes from the sources linked to in the pop-ups.

Source: Hearn, D., 2013, The Defences of the Mersey, Liverpool History Journal vol 12, Liverpool History Society, Liverpool.

This layer details a handful of the many interesting and varied archaeological sites around the county. Some are full-scale modern excavations, while others are merely findspots from previous centuries.

You can see brief descriptions of:

  • some placenames (e.g. Toxteth)
  • stray finds (e.g. prehistoric pots in Wavertree)
  • excavation sites (e.g. Greasby Copse, Wirral)
  • links to blog posts (e.g. Ridge and Furrow, West Derby)

Source: personal research via excavation reports and history books.

It’s well known that Merseyside was one of the prime targets for the Luftwaffe, particularly in 1941. There’s a pride in Liverpool’s significance for the war effort, tempered by the tragedies of the civilian deaths and the lost architectural legacy. This layer shows where bombs fell on the city between 1940 and 1942.

Source: I first came across this animated map of the Liverpool Blitz on the Liverpool Echo website. I followed a link there to PaulGallagherDigital on Carto, where the data is available to download.

Milestones are one of the most vulnerable monuments in the landscape. They’re often overlooked, pushed aside or even discarded when a road is improved or built. Some are stolen and put in peoples’ back gardens (I’ve seen photos!). And so the Milestone Society seeks to be something of a ‘Friends Society’ for them, and the associated marker types of boundary markers, canal mile markers and fingerposts. This layer marks those where the location is known, as well as milestones that have gone missing.

I’d like to thank the Milestone Society for permission to put this part of their data on here. You could help repay my debt by helping the society keep their records up to date. Are there any near you that aren’t on this map (though note that the data here is not absolutely up to date)? Are there any damaged milestones near you? The society likes to inspect milestones regularly, and to log visits and any changes in the marker’s condition.

If any near you are damaged or missing, or you think there’s one that’s not been recorded before, either get in touch with the Milestone Society directly, or let me know via the Contact page.

Source: The Milestone Society makes its data downloadable from their Repository website as Excel spreadsheets. I have converted these into geographical information.

Domesday Book is perhaps the greatest survey of the English landscape until the Ordnance Survey a thousand years later. Liverpool didn’t appear in the book, which detailed all kinds of things about land ownership, wealth and productivity, but many places in this area did. The main location was ‘Deorby’ (West Derby), the centre of a hundred stretching to Preston. This layer summarises the details of the places within the West Derby Hundred named in Domesday.

There’s a brilliant project called Open Domesday by Anna Powell-Smith that can be explored through a map, documents, and an API. I inexpertly mushed some of the data from those sources together in a way I hope makes sense.

Source: I used the API at to generate the data (in a very unsophisticated way – just adjusting the URL to match what I want). I also downloaded the raw data in Access database files from Many thanks to Anna Powell-Smith who built OpenDomesday and made the API, and to the University of Hull for posting the data online for all.

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